What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was at the beginning of a new stage of my career.  After an unexpected layoff and the first time not being employeed in nearly a quarter-century, I found myself in an unfamiliar place. 

I had spent my entire career working in IT shops of large corporations.  Three Fortune 500 companies had been my place of employment over 24 years.  Now I found myself in a company that was smaller than the departments I had been in.  Everything about this job was different.  The type of work, the type of company, the type of boss, the type of people, the type of office…. you name it, it was new to me.

I decided that I was going to go into it full bore, roll the dice, and just see what happened.  What I found was a job that has given me more fulfilment, more fun, and more excitement than anything I experienced in the corporate world. 

What has made this so much fun?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The ability to trace my actions straight to the bottom line of the company.
  • The ability to make decisions without multiple levels of review, oversight and second-guessing.
  • The ability to get out of the box and be creative, harnassing the entrepreneur in each of us.
  • The ability to step out of your comfort zone and lead in various capacities (my role has expanded beyond IT into almost every aspect of the business).

Bottom line, I believe the fundamental thing that has made this job enjoyable is the ability to make a difference!  I’ve heard before that the number one thing employees want from their employers is appreciation.  No greater apprecation can be found than to believe you make a difference in an organization.

My encouragement for anyone going through an unexpected job change is to keep your eyes open.  You never know where your next opportunity will come from.  And no matter how different it may feel to you, it may end up leading to the most fun you’ve had (on the job) in a long time!   Good luck and God Bless!

Real leaders don’t take the easy way out

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am an avid supporter of Boy Scouts.  I’ve been part of the scouting movement almost my whole life.  I’m an Eagle Scout and the father of an Eagle Scout.  A couple of years ago, after serving as Scoutmaster of a troop I launched, I decided to step down from the day-to-day interaction of serving at the troop level and try to find another way to help scouts.  I ended up serving as our district’s advancement chairman.  In this role, I interact with scouts on a regular basis who are working on becoming Eagle Scouts themselves.  It’s a very rewarding role, but not one without it’s frustrations.

One thing that frustrates me to no end, is when a scout comes to me with an idea for an Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, that is clearly not up to the standards we have set.  Let me explain.  The project (or ESLSP) is like the “capstone” course of your college program.  It’s that opportunity for a young man to take all the leadership skills he has developed over the years and apply them in a very real, meaningful way, by providing service to his community.  There is no set number of hours that he must fulfill, only that he must demonstrate leadership.  There are a number of parameters that further define what is allowed and not.

So, here’s where the frustration comes in.  On a rare occasion I’ll have a young man come in with an idea that’s just “good enough”.  On the surface it meets the criteria, but it doesn’t really do anything to challenge him.  It’s quite obvious when you talk to him that he’s just trying to get by.  In fact, I’ve had a few boys actually tell me that this is what they were doing.  (I guess you can say “at least their honest”.)

Unfortunately, what I see in these boys (albeit a small subset of the onesI work with), is something that’s all to common in society and the workplace today.  People look for just “good enough”.  Good enough to meet the customer requirements.  Good enough to pass the minimum standard.  Good enough to make the minimum return on investment.  Good enough to finish on time, but not ahead of time.

Do you see that as much as I do?  I’m sure you do.  It’s very frustrating whether it’s on the job or in other environment. 

Real leaders don’t do this.  Real leadership involves taking on a challenge and delivering “above and beyond”.  I’m not looking for leaders that can meet expectations.  I’m looking for leaders that will blow away expectations. 

The world is full of people willing to get by.  If you want to make a different – on the job, in your family, in your church or other organization, take the mantle of leadership and don’t look for the easy way out.  Challenge yourself and those around you to blow away expectations and deliver far more than what’s expected.  That’s what real leaders do.

Dealing with Fear? We all need a little love….

This is the third post regarding this topic.  Using the 1 Corinthians model of “what’s important in life”, I’ve learned to apply those concepts to dealing with the fears that life brings us. 

Fear is closely related to worry.  “Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.  Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of sorrow, it empties today of its strength”, according to Corrie Ten Boom, Holocaust Survivor

When you are dealing with fear, such as that caused by the loss of a job, you have to recognize that one of the most important things you need is a loving, supportive group of family and friends. 

Trying to get through tough times on your own is the worst of all approaches.  It’s really common for those of us of the “male persuasion” to try to muscle up and take things on “like a man” and suffer through the tough times.  But the truth is, we all need support.

But beware, it’s difficult to build this support system when you are in the frays of dealing with a problem.  Therefore, it’s important to build this before you face the need.  And, since you never know when you are going to hit a rocky spot, you need to begin now! 

The key to building your support system is to build your personal and professional network.  Fortunately, there are many tools today to help you do this.  Social networking tools, like Linked In and Facebook, are great ways to help build a record of your network.  But remember that it doesn’t stop at the keyboard.  A true network is comprised of both in-person and virtual relationships.

Last year when I was out of work, I made it a personal goal to network with at least two people per week on an individual basis.  I also tried to attend at least two networking functions per week.  Add that to the online networking I was doing, and I was building a network that not only helped get me through the rough times, but many of whom are still part of my network today.

So, my advice to everyone is to cultivate and grow your personal network.  There’s no better time than today.  Then, when you need them, they’ll be there.

Dealing with Worry? Hope, Hope, Hurray!

In my last post I talked about the need to have faith to get through the challenges in life.  Worries and fear are inevitable, but how we deal with them is entirely up to us.

Using the 1 Corinthians 13 model, I am proposing an age-old solution for getting through the rough spots.  After you have faith, the next item in the recipe is hope.  In the Old Testament, Jeremiah was faced with some pretty tough times.  How did he survive?  He turned his eyes on God, he kept the faith, and he held fast to hope.  He wrote “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him”.

Hope is a wonderful tool.  Hope springs eternal, we say.  Hope is all about having an optimistic attitude.  You don’t have to be a Christian to have hope.  We can all hope for a better job, a better lifestyle, or for even that perfect someone to come along.

When we’re facing tough times, faith is the first thing you need.  You need to find something to believe in.  That’s your rock.  That’s what you hold on to.  But once you have that established, you need to turn your thoughts to the future.

Imagine a better place, a better way, a better job.  Having hope is all about picturing yourself where you want to be, not where you are.

If you do this, you’ll find yourself thinking about yourself in that situation.  In this way you are positioning yourself in your mind for that better situation.  It’s a great way to get your mindset right for that new job or opportunity. 

So, have a little faith, and then hope, hope hurray.

Dealing with Worry? You Gotta Have Faith!

Dealing with fear and worry is an every day issue. You can’t avoid them. But what you can do is learn how to deal with them and overcome the paralyzing effect they can have on you.

Let’s first define fear and worry. While they are almost used interchangeably, there is a difference. Fear is an automatic reaction to some event. A rabid dog or a deer jumping in front of your car should instigate fear. In this way, fear is not altogether bad. When used properly, it can protect you.

Worry, on the other hand, is a choice. Francis Chan defines worry in his book Crazy Love”, Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.”

The Bible actually gives us a  model on how to deal with worry that will work in any situation.  1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “Chapter of Love” and is popularly used in weddings.  The famous ending of the chapter is “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

The model for dealing with worry is to apply these three “most important things”, faith, hope & love.  In this post I’ll talk about the first of these, faith.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a great quote linking fear (doubts) with faith.  He said “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”  FDR recognized that you have to have faith in order to have the strength inside to move forward past the challenges of today.

First, let me explain that I’m not talking about a faith in God.  While that is something that is important to me, that’s not what this blog is about.  I am talking about applying some Biblical priniciples in a very practical way to help you in your daily life.

So how does faith help you with worry?  Simply put, faith is a form of confidence.  To overcome fear, you need to have faith – fatih in yourself, your friends, your employer, your abilities, your plan…. whoever you need to rely on to get you through the tough time.

Take for example the time last year when I was unemployed.  I needed to have faith in several things:

  • Myself – I had to believe that I was capable of finding a job, and performing the duties of it when I did.
  • My friends – I had to believe that my network of friends and associates would come through and help me find employment opportunities.
  • My wife and family – I had to believe that they would support me no matter what happened.
  • My strategy – I had to believe that the job search strategy I had empoyed would work.

Francis Chan had this to say about fear and faith.  “Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a county out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.”

Call it faith, courage, confidence… pick your word, the meaning is the same.  If you are going to face your worry head on, you have to figure out who and what you have faith in.  Then use that confidence to help you through the tough times.

Next, I’ll talk about hope, and how it is a necessary component in dealing with fear.